Key facts and supporting quotes

Ahead of Further Survivor Testimony Today, Trauma and Law Experts Debunk the Rape Myths at the Center of Weinstein’s Defense

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Already, two of the six Weinstein Silence Breakers expected to testify have taken the stand — and, at every turn, Weinstein’s attorneys have relied on outdated and harmful myths about rape in order to build a defense. For example:

  • Defense Attorney Donna Rotunno reportedly sought to discredit Annabella Sciorra’s testimony by “pointing out that the actress could not remember the exact date of the alleged assault and several other details about the night.”
  • In his cross examination of Mimi Haleyi, Defense Attorney Damon Cheronis reportedly showed “friendly” emails Haleyi “sent Weinstein before and after the assault…including a June 2008 email she signed ‘lots of love, Miriam.’”

With three more alleged victims expected to take the stand this week, we wanted to take a moment to underscore what research and evidence tells us about how victims of rape often react to trauma, especially when perpetrated by someone with power over their career and/or livelihoods. 

Below are key facts and supporting quotes by leading trauma experts who have spoken out on these issues in the context of the Harvey Weinstein trial. 

FACT: Weinstein’s alleged victims’ memories are consistent with those of sexual trauma survivors.

Dr. Anne DePrince and Dr. Joan Cook, professor of psychology at University of Denver and associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine respectively: 

“Common reactions during and after the assault can leave gaps in memory and lead to less coherent descriptions of what happened. Other reactions can lead to vivid memories. This means that we shouldn’t expect that all survivors will necessarily have — or not have — memory problems.

Dr. Shaili Jain, psychiatrist and PTSD specialist at Stanford University: 

“Accounts of trauma often include gaps that can be explained by the way the brain consolidates memories. Consolidation is a biological process that stabilizes memories and allows them to mature. After a major trauma, this natural process of consolidating memories goes into overdrive and lends traumatic memories a power beyond regular memories from your day-to-day life: They intrude into a survivors’ life in the weeks, months, and years that follow with an unforgettable vividness.”

FACT: An abuser may have actual or perceived power over his victim, and therefore, the victim may seek to maintain friendly contact in order to avoid retaliation from the abuser. 

Dr. Joan Cook and Dr. Jessi Gold, associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis respectively: 

“’Friendly’ emails are not evidence Weinstein did nothing wrong. Such communications are a common symptom of victims’ internal struggle to stay above the water.

“When the abuser is seen as an authority figure, with an omnipresent powerful presence who controls their livelihood and financial prosperity, some women feel they have no choice but to be compliant…. The power and control Weinstein wielded would have brought unrelenting, reverberating stress into every aspect of his victims’ lives and forced them into isolation. There was nowhere he couldn’t reach in the Hollywood universe.”

Dr. Jennifer Freyd, professor of psychology at the University of Oregon:

“Weinstein was one of Hollywood’s most powerful moguls, a man who could easily make or break anyone’s career in the entertainment business. The 100 or more women he allegedly abused, many of them aspiring actresses or models, ‘couldn’t afford to alienate’ him, said Freyd, who is not involved in the case. She said ambitious survivors might have suppressed the abuse, consciously or unconsciously, because confronting Weinstein could have led to their dreams being destroyed.”

Dr. Veronique Valliere, forensic psychologist: 

“…[F]or most victims who know their assailant, reaching out to him, ‘even if it feels wrong,’ helps them sort through their confusion. They need some sort of admission from him to set their world back on its axis: Even just an acknowledgment and apology, like, ‘Hey, I was a little drunk last night. I went a little too far. Sorry.’ It’s easier for a victim to deny that a friend or mentor or colleague assaulted her than to deal with its fallout. ‘Because to say I’ve been raped, I have to say my friend is a rapist,’ Valliere explains.” 

Tania Tetlow, former federal prosecutor and the president of Loyola University New Orleans:

“The desire to somehow make nice and hope that you can still get what you have earned in your career is very strong. It’s easy to blame women, but I don’t know why you would blame them for that versus blaming the man who would put them through such hell.”

FACT: Rape myths — about who is “truly” a victim and how “real” victims behave — and unjust laws will pose challenges to conviction in the Weinstein case, just as they do for rape cases across the board 

Jane Manning, former sex-crimes prosecutor in Queens, New York:

“Rape laws in most states were written in such a way as to make rape virtually impossible to prosecute…. There’s still this ancient prejudice in the back of our mind that when it comes to rape, a virtuous victim should put up a fight.”

Deborah Tuerkheimer, professor of law at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and former assistant district attorney in Manhattan:

“In short, throughout the trial, the defendant — who rightly enjoys a presumption of innocence in the courtroom — will have this on his side: our cultural tendency to unduly dismiss claims of sexual assault. I call this longstanding problem ‘credibility discounting,’ and I have written extensively about how it pervades the criminal justice system.”

Tania Tetlow, a former federal prosecutor and the president of Loyola University New Orleans:

“If the victim’s behavior doesn’t look like the behavior of a nun, she will be attacked….I don’t think that there’s any woman in this country, no matter how powerful, who doesn’t understand that they can be taken down in a moment.’”

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